Quarterly tax returns – HMRC’s thirst for knowledge

… about us.

HMRC published its consultation papers on 15th August called “Making Tax Digital” along with a series of other matters. Originally it was called “Making Tax Easier”. I assume they omitted the words, “to Collect” in error.  The Telegraph focused on the draconian penalty regime proposed (The Telegraph, 16 August 2016).  The Times was most interested in the new proposed powers of HMRC to penalise advisers involved in tax avoidance.

These proposals go to the heart of the relationship between government and the people. HMRC seeks powers to require unpaid work from citizens and will find itself destroying the understanding that used to exist. The relationship appears to be broken, and it seems like time to rethink it.

For centuries, tax was understood as government taking a share and using it as it saw fit. Excess taxation toppled Kings. Now, the people, and sometimes the media, are complicit in creating the illusion that tax equates to charity.  Tax is necessary for society to work, but it is not inherently a benign thing.

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Survey: Has the Brexit Vote Affected You?

UPDATE: The survey below has now closed.  We are really grateful to those who took part and we will be conducting further research in due course.  Please do check back to take part in future surveys.  Our report is available here.

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First there was a vote.  A little more than a week later, we have no political authority in the country and Her Majesty must be thinking something like, “Well that’s a great 90th birthday present guys – I really could do without having to wade in and take control at my time of life” (I am sure the Royal thoughts are more eloquently put).  Apart from Parliament self-destructing, vast numbers of petition signing people threatening to hold their breath till they turn blue, and the leaders of the European Countries getting severe indigestion and threatening handbags at dawn, nothing has actually happened yet. Surely it is not news that half the UK doesn’t like being in the EU, and half does?

Never the less, based on this startling revelation, the banks have downgraded the UK’s credit, Sterling has sunk and rumours abound about the next knee jerk.  In the meantime, Mr Osborne may be thinking of making the UK a corporate tax haven, something we would all welcome?  Some question how on earth government can allow a fractional majority of the votes cast and less than 50% of the voting population to force a change as momentous as our removal from the EU. This is the same government, I think, that has said that, to go on strike in a key industry, a union should have a 60% majority?

We have now heard anecdotally that some overseas businesses are reviewing or deferring decisions to invest in the UK, while others say it is business as usual, and some report increases in sales.  With all the confusion, we would like to find some clarity.  Please would you tell us a little about your experience, and how the EU Referendum is or may be affecting you, by answering a few questions on our survey page?  The survey is open to anyone, but it can only be completed once by each person.  At the end of the survey, you can optionally leave your details and we will use them to contact you with any interesting results.

It takes about three or four minutes to complete.
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Don’t Ask Me What I Think of EU

One of the funniest comments I heard about Brexit this morning, as we awoke to its being a reality, was in response to the question of how Brussels will react. The answer was given “they will be completely shocked”. If it is true, it tells us all we need to know. There was a referendum in the UK yesterday; it was always going to be close. This is not a shocking result, and anyone who is shocked by the outcome must surely be open to accusations of some degree of arrogance.

Politicians will disagree about the political, and economists will disagree about the economic effects.  In my previous blogs I have been clear that I do not believe we can predict what will happen in this Brexit scenario, so speculation is as good as we can get. A look back at history does tell us that humans, economies and people generally are far more resilient than we fear and no doubt we will be living in very interesting times. We should be more than cautious as pundits supply endless opinions on how Brexit will impact on business.

But what of your business and what can we learn?

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Euro-nausea and how to survive the white noise

After my last post on the matter, I had intended to let it rest.  There is now so much being said about the Leave/Remain debate that we start to hope for different news.  Then we get different news, and it’s so awful that we would rather focus on Europe.  Maybe there is a lesson on being careful what you wish for.  Maybe that lesson will have some impact on the way we vote.

Despite the volume of words, very little is actually being said.  Each side speculates on the financial effect of a Brexit from opposing perspectives; but no-one knows.  Each side speculates on immigration, defence, security, you name it; but no-one knows.  Each side throws ever more unpleasant (if often truthful) barrages at each other.  The polls are currently weighted toward a Brexit.  The bookies still marginally favour Remain.

I continue to wonder where to put my “X”.  If you do too, you may find some help in EU Referendum FAQ’s produced by the UK200 Group, of which Hillier Hopkins LLP is a member.  The UK200 Group has produced this document under its Campaign for Clarity project.  The Times is trying to do something even more sophisticated.  Laudable as all this is, I am not sure that anything is clearer.

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Someone Sent a Promised Land

In the press this week, was a report that the DVLA thinks that they have lost £200m in road tax revenues since introducing the new disc-free tax system.  It caught my eye because, about a year ago, the Chancellor announced how they will now do away with paper tax returns and replace them with an online tax account.  Many of us wondered at the time how the IT would work.

In the 1970’s (I know I don’t look old enough) I recall how we all thought computers would do away with almost all mundane work, and we would live lives of leisure, and only do the work that humans must do.  It was a Promised Land, delivered by second class post via Royal Mail (like most government mail), it seems.  Is Government trapped in a 1970’s time bubble, desperately doomed to failure, yet hoping to save costs by computerising our lives?  Or does government have a long term strategy?

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In, Out, Any Way the Wind Blows

The_European_Parliament.jpg

You may be expecting some wisdom on how to vote on the EU Referendum.  If I had any to offer, I might be tempted, but I do not propose to advise you on something I do not understand.  I have been itching to write something on the subject, fond as I am of my own verbosity, but quickly realised that the EU Referendum is a roll of the dice.  So I decide to make some observations, and if those observations inform your choice, I apologise, for they have not yet informed mine.

In talking to people on the subject I notice that the Decidedly Inners appear to look with a plaintiff disbelief that anyone could possibly think otherwise than to remain.  It is almost a religious fervour.  Those, on the other hand, who are less sure, tend to look shyly as they tell of a secret immoral desire to vote to leave.  A guilty apologetic pleasure exists among the not-Quite Decidedly Outers, as if theirs is a perversion, an irresistible, anti-establishment mischief.  And this led me to think about the Referendum itself.   For there is sheer dishonesty in the whole process, setting Big-Endians against Little-Endians, as if either actually knew which was right and which was wrong.

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